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What independent physicians do (and don't) want from potential partners

By Eliza DaileyLaura Charney

November 3, 2021

    Independent physicians frequently tell us that they're flooded with offers from potential partners—but many of these organizations are going out to the market with an outdated pitch. Today's independent physician groups are larger, resilient, and more sophisticated than before.

    As a result, they're looking for different things from potential suitors. Read on to learn what independent physicians want and how your organization can become their partner of choice.

    We've been defining the independent physician landscape wrong—here's a new approach

    Two non-negotiables

    Before partners can even begin to differentiate themselves, they must meet new baseline expectations. Independent physicians can now afford to be choosy. With more options than ever, some partner attributes that were previously differentiators, are now foundational to any arrangement. In our conversations, independent physicians frequently voice two non-negotiables.

    1. Easy to work with

    Independent physicians report that cumbersome workflows, lack of interoperability, and delayed decision making are major turnoffs—so much so that they make or break partnership decisions. No matter what services, tools, or opportunities you bring to the table, if you're difficult to work with, you'll lose physician partners to competitors. Focus on removing barriers to collaboration and ensuring that your offerings seamlessly integrate. Physicians want partners who will make their lives easier, not harder.

    2. No exclusivity

    Asking physicians in your market to only partner with you is an outdated strategy. In fact, physicians intentionally partner with multiple organizations in order to strengthen their leverage and spread-out risk. Rather than demanding that independent physicians work with you exclusively, focus on becoming their preferred partner. Invest in understanding their needs and the factors that will make them want to work more closely with you than others.

    Three differentiators

    Physicians are increasingly looking for partners that support their strategic priorities, fill critical gaps, and play to their strengths. While financial security was once a major decision-making factor, independent physicians are evaluating partners across a different set of attributes today. Here are the three most common features that physicians look for in potential partners.

    1. Support to succeed in value

    One of the top strategic areas where physicians are actively looking for partners is value-based care. Many independent groups are doubling down on risk-based payment and want to partner with organizations who can provide the tools and infrastructure they need to succeed. This includes offerings that help them better identify vulnerable populations, enhance information sharing across stakeholders, and support patient self-management.

    Across our research interviews, the number one thing that independent physicians consistently want is access to real-time clinical data for attributed patients. As they take on more risk, physicians want to track patient progress and utilization outside their practice that may impact performance in value-based contracts. Set your organization apart by getting data into physician hands as close to real-time as possible by standing up ADT feeds, encounter notifications, and other tech solutions.

    Research: Win physician buy-in for value-based care

    2. Flexible partnership arrangements

    The physicians who remain independent today are independent by choice—with many proudly calling themselves "fiercely" independent. Historically, partners assumed that the best models were the ones that allowed for more control, however, this is no longer a feasible approach. Partners who insist on employment or tight affiliations will find themselves dead last in the race to win over physicians.

    We've seen contractual models that allow for more autonomy and flexibility surge in popularity among independent physicians. For example, more partners are offering MSO arrangements. In the past, physician groups primarily stood up MSOs, but we've also seen hospitals and other partners begin to adopt this approach. Executives should identify the areas where they must enforce consistent standards vs. where they can allow for more flexibility. Make sure to highlight these flexibilities and get specific about where physicians will retain autonomy during partnership conversations.

    Toolkit: Pick an alignment model to support your goals

    3. Status as a strategic partner

    Just as important as what you offer physicians, is how you partner with them. Independent physicians don't want to be treated as just another employee. Organizations who do so will find it hard to secure partnerships—no matter the attractiveness of their value proposition. Partners should foster a collaborative environment, involve physicians in decision-making, and proactively invest in their engagement.

    While this may sound simple, it's a key differentiator in setting your organization apart from other potential partners. All else equal, independent physicians will opt for the suitor who they feel values them as a strategic partner. And importantly, don't just say that you do. Demonstrate the concrete ways that your organization elevates independent physicians.

    Blog post: Physicians want partners, not bosses

    We've been defining the independent physician landscape wrong—here's a new approach

    Historically, the physician landscape has been divided into the hospital-employed and the independent. But over time, the "independent" segment has become more complex and inclusive of more types of groups who don't fit the traditional definition of shareholder-owned and shareholder-governed. Advisory Board's Sarah Hostetter and Prianca Pai provide a more nuanced way to approach a diversified market.

    Read more


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